An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ,
Cnoc na Labhras,
Roll number: 64270P
Date of inspection: 25 September 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ carried out as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal, and subject teachers.
Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ places a strong emphasis on Science at junior cycle level leading on to the possibility for each student of taking Physics, Chemistry, and Biology at senior cycle. Science is a core subject taken by all students from second year on. However it is not included in the school’s first-year curriculum.
All science classes are of mixed ability and the very high level of uptake at higher level in the Junior Certificate Examination indicates the high level of expectations that the science teachers have of their students. All classes in Science are taught at higher level and all lessons observed were conducted through Irish.
The time allocation for Science and the provision of double periods for practical lessons accord with good practice. The school’s four laboratories (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Junior Science) are shared with Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ, on the same campus. They have adequate storage space that is well used. Not alone must the science teachers in the school organise laboratory access among themselves and their classes, access must also be organised in conjunction with the Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ. The twelve teachers involved, five from the Coláiste, meet at the beginning of each school year to make these arrangements. The science teachers are commended on the professional approach that they take in this area.
Central to the success of science in the school is the work of the laboratory technician employed by the two schools from their own resources. Without her work, planning and delivering the science laboratory resources for one thousand students and twelve science teachers would be a far greater challenge. The laboratory technician has responsibility for all aspects of the laboratories including setting out apparatus for students’ practical work, general laboratory organisation, and carrying out tendering and ordering of laboratory supplies. This work is done under the management of the science department co-ordinator. The condition and level of organisation of the four laboratories are evidence of the quality of this work.
The laboratories are adequately equipped and necessary resources for Science are purchased as the need arises. The health and safety statement was last reviewed about five years ago and a further review is planned. Appropriate attention is given to safety issues and safe storage of chemicals and equipment.
The science department has access to laptops and data projectors. The main use made of ICT in science lessons is in relation to diagrams and revision. While the school has broadband its availability does not extend to the laboratories. There are plans to extend it further as resources allow.
Over the past two years joint planning in the science department has developed from planning for laboratory availability through the documentation of common aims and objectives to its present stage where curricular planning is taking place. The collaborative work of the science teachers is underpinned by the co-operative relationships that exist in the department. There are plans to work on common assessment in Science.
Meetings of science teachers are held each year to make arrangements for the sharing of the laboratories and to arrange examinations. The science department plan and the induction of a teacher new to the school have also been discussed at departmental meetings. The science teachers are commended on the approach that they have taken to planning their work and on the quality of their collaborative and individual planning. The department should continue with its joint planning and build further on the work carried out so far.
Among the areas included in the science department plan are science class organisation, resources for Science, and timing of course delivery. The plan is a support for the detailed individual teacher planning material that was examined during the inspection.
Each lesson observed was appropriate to the syllabus and the coverage of the syllabus was appropriate in the case of each class. The topic and pace of each lesson was also appropriate to the class group concerned. Each lesson observed had clear objectives and the lesson planning in the case of each was of a high standard. Teachers’ planning folders inspected were also of a high standard.
Good practice was in evidence where the teacher used more than one methodology in communicating lesson content. An example of this was where an oral presentation was supplemented by material on the board and an ICT-based illustration of key points. The overhead projector was used effectively in each lesson and ICT was used in two of the lessons. There is scope for further development of ICT in teaching and learning.
Even though each lesson was conducted entirely through Irish the textbook in use was in English. Material published by An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG) was used as a resource by the teachers rather than directly in teaching. The science teachers should explore as part of their planning the further use that they could make of these resources.
Questioning of students used a range of question types including open-ended questions which, in the case of two of the lessons, were made use of effectively to drive the lesson forward. Each class engages in student practical work that is being recorded appropriately. It is recommended however that a greater emphasis be placed in all classes on students completing accounts of practical work in their own words. Student records of class work, homework and practical work were kept in an ordered manner that ensured that these records would be of use to them. However it is recommended that teachers place a greater emphasis on providing written feedback to student on their written work.
The level of students’ participation in each of the lessons was very high with students fully engaged at almost all times. Where good practice was in evidence teachers ensured full student attention before commencing lessons. In all lessons a very good level of rapport between teacher and students was in evidence and students were affirmed.
Student-centred learning was in evidence in one lesson where the outcomes of laboratory work were being discussed and students worked to generalise these results into a law. The lesson was notable in that linkage was made within it between Mathematics and Science.
It was clear that students were learning in each of the lessons observed. This judgement is based on questioning of the students, the interest and participation levels observed including students’ contributions to the lessons, and review of students’ records. It is indicated also by the level of achievement of students in the State examinations.
Assessment of students in second year is through class tests every three or four weeks with the results being averaged to provide a mark for the Christmas and summer reports home. In third and fourth year students, as well as class tests have common examinations at Christmas and in summer. Fourth-year students also have a mock examination after Christmas. Students’ laboratory notebooks are checked on a regular basis and their performance of practical work is taken account of in end-of term examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The high quality work of the laboratory technician is a strong support to the science department.
· There is a high level of co-operation between teachers in relation to examinations, curriculum and laboratory organisation.
· The school’s science laboratories are of a high quality, and are well organised and maintained.
· The science teachers have carried out a significant amount of joint planning.
· Students of the school have a high level of achievement in Science.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The practice of giving written feedback to students on their work should be extended and students should be given credit in end-of-term examinations for practical work carried out them.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Science and the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2008